It’s war at the pumps. U.S. crude oil for April delivery topped $105 a barrel early this week, and the European Brent crude benchmark soared above $120. What that means for the average American motorist in the big summer “driving season” coming up is prices at or above $4 a gallon for the first time since 2008.

 

The best way to combat high fuel prices is to buy the most efficient car you can find, and this column is about just how to do that — join the over-30-mpg-combined club. Sure, a lot of cars get 30 mpg on the highway, but these babies get that in combined highway and city driving. Fortunately, the current selection dwarfs anything previously offered, and they’re not all Japanese cars, either — among the high-mpg 2011 and 2012 domestics identified by Edmunds.com are four Chevrolets (30, 32 and 93 combined) and five Fords plus a Mercury (32, 33 and 39 combined). Check out the Chevy Cruze Eco (right), which hits 33 mpg combined.

 

High gas prices are a big political football right now. Republican House Speaker John Boehner told his fellow GOPers last week, “This debate is a debate we want to have. It was reported this week that we’ll soon see $4-a-gallon gas prices. Maybe higher. Certainly, this summer will see the highest gas prices in years. Your constituents saw those reports, and they’ll be talking about it.”

 

In politics, it’s all about framing, so expect Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich to blame President Obama for not being enthusiastic enough about offshore drilling and for pushing green cars. The spin is that he wants high gas prices, because that makes creates a market for him to get his 1 million electric and plug-in hybrid cars by 2015. But consider this — it’s only because Obama was outfront requiring car fleets to reach 35.5 mpg by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025 that carmakers are offering the ease-your-pain 30-mpg choices. And Americans are buying them.

 

The stance can’t be that we have a god-given right to the oil under their sand to fuel the huge SUVs we have to drive. But that’s exactly the way Gingrich (left) is framing it. In Georgia recently, he said, “Let’s be clear what this election is all about. We believe in the right to bear arms, and we like to bear the arms in our trucks.” The next day, in Oklahoma, he opined, "You can't put a gun rack on a Volt."

 

Gingrich called for an “American energy policy” of expanded federal land and offshore drilling, which he claimed would get gas back to $2.50 a gallon. The U.S. has something like 2 percent of the world’s oil, so it’s ludicrous to suggest that drilling into that limited supply, even with Alaska added, could have such a dramatic effect on international prices. But it probably played well as red meat politics in Atlanta. See below for Gingrich's highly simplified solutions to gas pains.

 

So what are your 2012-model 30-combined choices to fight $4 a gallon gas? Your friend is the federal website fueleconomy.gov, which lets you find lists of cars by category and fuel economy. Let me know if I missed anything in these listings (I probably did). I count 35 cars and trucks, and they’re arranged in descending order of fuel economy performance:

 

SMALL CARS

Nissan LeafMitsubishi i (a/k/a I-MiEV): Battery electric, 112 mpge (miles per gallon equivalent), fuel at $540 annually.

Nissan Leaf: (at right) Battery electric. 99 mpge, 612 annual fuel cost.

Toyota Prius C: 50 mpg combined, $1,056 annual fuel cost.

Honda Civic Hybrid: 44 mpg combined, $1,200 annual fuel cost.

Scion iQ: 37 mpg combined, $1,427 annual fuel cost.

Chevrolet Volt: Gas-electric plug-in hybrid. 94 mpge (electric mode); 36 mpg combined (gas mode). $1,541 annual gas costs, $648 electric.

Smart Fortwo Cabriolet and Coupe: 36 mpg combined, $1,583 combined.

Volkswagen Golf; 2.0-liter diesel. 34 mpg combined. The Jetta TDI diesel is similar. Both auto and manual, $1,738 annual fuel cost.

Hyundai Accent: 1.6-liter, six-speed manual. 33 mpg combined (auto), 34 combined (manual), $1,600 and $1,553 annual fuel costs respectively.

Kia Rio: 1.6-liter. 33 mpg combined (auto), 34 combined (manual), $1,600 and $1,553 annual fuel costs respectively.

Fiat 500: 1.4-liter. 33 mpg combined, $1,727 annual fuel costs.

Nissan Versa: 1.6-liter. 33 mpg combined, $1,600 annual fuel costs.

Toyota Yaris: 1.5-liter. 33 mpg combined (manual), 32 combined (auto), $1,600 and $1,650 annual fuel costs.

Honda Civic HF: 1.8 liter. 33 mpg combined, $1,600 annual fuel costs.

Chevrolet Sonic: 1.4-liter. 33 mpg combined, $1,600 annual fuel costs.

Ford Fiesta SFE: 1.6-liter. 33 mpg combined (regular Fiesta, auto and manual, are similar), $1,600 annual fuel costs.

Ford Focus: 2.0-liter. 31 mpg combined, $1,703 annual fuel costs.

 

FAMILY SEDANS

Ford FusionToyota Prius: Gas-electric hybrid. 1.8-liter. 50 mpg combined, $1,056 annual fuel costs.

Toyota Camry Hybrid: Gas-electric hybrid. 2.5-liter. 41 mpg combined, $1,288 annual fuel costs.

Honda Insight: Gas-electric hybrid. 1.3-liter. 42 mpg combined, $1,257 annual fuel costs.

Ford Fusion Hybrid: (at right) Gas-electric hybrid. 2.5-liter. 39 mpg combined, $1,354 annual fuel costs.

Kia Optima Hybrid: Gas-electric hybrid. 2.4-liter. 37 mpg combined, $1,427 annual fuel costs.

Volkswagen Passat: 2.0-liter diesel. 35 mpg combined (manual), 34 combined (auto), $1,689 and $1,738 annual fuel costs respectively.

Chevrolet Cruze Eco: 1.4-liter. 33 mpg combined, $1,600 annual fuel costs.

Hyundai Elantra: 1.8-liter. 33 mpg combined (auto or manual), $1,600 annual fuel costs.

Just below the 30 mpg cutoff, at 29 combined, are the Buick LaCrosse and Regal eAssist cars, with a mild hybrid drivetrain.

Chevrolet Cruze: 1.4-liter. 30 mpg combined, $1,760 annual fuel costs.

 

UPSCALE SEDANS

Lexus CT 200h: Gas-electric hybrid. 1.8-liter. 42 mpg combined, $1,257 annual gas costs.

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: Gas-electric hybrid. 2.5-liter. 39 mpg combined, $1,354 annual fuel costs.

Lexus HS 250h: Gas-electric hybrid. 2.4-liter. 35 mpg combined, $1,509 annual fuel costs.

 

SPORT UTILITY VEHICLES

Ford Escape Hybrid: Gas-electric hybrid. 2.5-liter. 32 combined, $1,650 annual fuel costs.

Lexus RX 450h: Gas-electric hybrid. 3.5-liter. 30 mpg combined, $1,900 annual fuel costs.

 

SPORTY AND SPORTS CARS

Hyundai VelosterHonda CR-Z: Gas-electric hybrid. 1.5-liter. 37 mpg combined (auto), 34 mpg combined (manual), $1,427 and $1,553 annual fuel costs respectively.

Hyundai Veloster: (right) 1.6-liter. 32 mpg combined, $1,650 annual fuel costs.

Mini Cooper: 1.6-liter. 32 mpg combined, $1,781 annual fuel costs.

Mazda 2: 1.5-liter. 32 mpg combined (manual), 30 mpg combined (auto), $1,650 and $1,760 annual fuel costs respectively.

The Fisker Karma should be on here, but it’s not yet listed on Fueleconomy.gov. The Tesla Roadster would place if it were still in production, and the Tesla Model S undoubtedly will make the cut later this year.

 

VAN

Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric Van. Battery Electric. 62 mpge, $972 annual fuel costs.

 

And here's Newt's formula for $1.50 a gallon gas, via Fox News: drill, baby drill.

 

 
 
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